Comcast acquires Southern Vermont Cable

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BRATTLEBORO — Comcast has acquired Southern Vermont Cable Company, setting off a transition process for local residents and businesses that is expected to continue through the fall.

"The acquisition of Southern Vermont Cable Company gives Comcast an opportunity to provide the residents and businesses in Dummerston, Jamaica, Newfane, Putney and Townshend with access to our innovative products and services, including an amazing internet experience with the fastest broadband speeds available," Dennis Mathew, senior vice president of Comcast's Western New England Region, said in a news release issued Wednesday. "We have a long-standing commitment to serving the communities in Vermont where our customers and employees live and work and are proud to extend that commitment to our newest communities in the Green Mountain State."

Southern Vermont Cable offered internet and cable service locally for more than 30 years, according to documents related to the sale filed with the state in December. The company was said to have about 2,450 customers when the deal was first proposed, compared to Comcast's more than 830,000 in the company’s New England region.

For the sale, Comcast needed a certificate of public good from the Vermont Public Utility Commission allowing the company to add Newfane, Putney and Townshend to the list of communities it can serve. In May, the commission issued a certificate that also included Dover, where Southern Vermont Cable had a certificate to operate but had not. A month earlier, the commission approved an order allowing the price tag of the sale to be kept private as it could be perceived as "commercially sensitive" information.

During a hearing on the proposed sale hosted by the Vermont Department of Public Service at Landmark College in Putney in February, local residents praised Southern Vermont Cable owner and president Ernie Scialabba for exceptional customer service. He was said to have come out in snow storms or late at night to help customers.

Local residents expressed concern about the potential for their rates to rise. They also called for a commitment for broadband expansion in the region.

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The certificate, which will expire after 11 years, requires Comcast to invite local government officials in Vermont to meet annually to discuss community needs and company plans. The company is expected to "at all times provide a reasonable quality of service, having regard to [Federal Communications Commission] minimum service standards, available technology, subscriber interest, and costs."

"Prices for services not subject to rate regulation shall at all times be reasonable, having regard to the costs of providing such services," states the certificate.

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If a consumer complaint provision in the certificate is triggered within a given year, Comcast will be required to submit a report. That would happen if the Department of Public Service receives two-and-half complaints per 1,000 customers and the department's Consumer Affairs & Public Information division determines the company should have done something differently before the customer had to reach out to the department. The report would need to indicate the number and nature of complaints received, how they were analyzed by the company, what systemic issues were identified and how the company responded to those issues.

Comcast also needs to send commission-approved notices to subscribers annually seeking feedback on the quality of services and informing them of how to communicate their views to the commission, department and company.

Brattleboro Community Television Executive Director Cor Trowbridge said her group provided residents in the SVCC service territory with video coverage of select board meetings and annual town meetings, and public access facilities and training since 2011.

"We have been reassured by Comcast that new customers will have access to BCTV's [Public, Educational, and Government] programming on Channels 1075 (formerly Channel 8) and 1085 (formerly Channel 10) through the Interactive Program Guide," she said in an email. "We look forward to continuing to serve the residents of Dummerston, Jamaica, Newfane, Putney and Townshend, in addition to the Comcast service territory of Brattleboro, Guilford, and Vernon."

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BCTV board member Marty Cohn said the station's contract with Comcast "assures BCTV's ongoing presence in the greater Brattleboro area and makes BCTV a central resource for a large part of Windham County."

"Local public access television is a vital part of the cultural and educational life of communities, helping to bring to local subscribers and BCTV members a truly independent means of exercising democratic and artistic freedoms," he said.

In the news release, Comcast said it will offer its "complete portfolio of Xfinity services" to former SVCC customers, including X1 Platform for video service, which allows for use of internet apps such as Peacock, Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, YouTube, Pandora, iHeartRadio and National Public Radio One; Xfinity Internet with gigabit speed; Xfinity xFi, a digital dashboard to personalize, manage and control home wiif services; Xfinity Home security and home automation services; the new Xfinity Mobile wireless service and Xfinity Voice home phone service.

The company said it provides low-income customers with Internet Essentials, high-speed internet for $9.95 a month plus tax for qualified individuals with the option to buy an Internet-ready computer for less than $150 and multiple options to access free digital literacy training. Businesses also are offered special products and services.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com and at @CMaysBR on Twitter.


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